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Expository Essay on the Brussels Terrorist Attack

This sample essay explores the March 22, 2016 terrorist attacks in Belgium. This essay provides an example of the features available from Ultius custom writing services.

History of the 2016 Brussels Terrorist Attack

Brussels, Belgium was hit with the most venomous terrorist attack in the country’s history on March 22, 2016. In the early hours at Zaventem Airport, two coordinated nail bombings exploded within moments of each other, at either end of the check-in area (“Brussels Explosions: What”). Witnesses say that just prior to the explosions Arabic shouts were heard. The first blast occurred within seconds before the second detonation.

The European Union eyewitnesses say that victims were seen running to escape the first bomb, when they were, thereafter, caught in the carnage of the second bomb at the other end of the terminal (“Brussels Explosions: What”). A third, more dangerous, bomb was found at the airport, but was detonated after Zaventem security had cordoned off the area – no one was hurt (“Brussels Attacks”). In addition to the explosions at the Zaventem Airport, there was another detonation at the Maalbeek Metro Station1 (“Brussels Explosions: What”). Credit for the attacks was claimed by the jihadist Islamic State militant group (IS).2 Thirty-five persons died in the triumvirate attack. Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a Belgian expert on the jihad, said:

“I had certainly expected something else would take place, but not that it would happen on this scale,” (“Brussels Explosions: Why”).

Brussels was chosen by the Islamic State because the city is a high profile target due to its relationship with the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), NATO, the Belgium government and other international associations. The country has locked horns with Islamic militant groups for a number of years. In fact, at least five hundred Belgians have been enticed into militaristic participation for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Some of the most influential and active cells have been located in Brussels and in Molenbeek in particular, a suburb of Brussels (“Brussels Explosions: Why”).

Molenbeek, a “jihadist launchpad,” populated with a large number of ethnic Moroccans, is a gritty impoverished area, home to gun, drug and street violence (O’Sullivan). Belgians and others are both traumatized and remain incredulous to the fact that this tiny neighborhood, in the center of their country, has become a mecca for fueling ardent terrorism. This incredulity may offer a veiled explanation of current circumstances in itself.

Brussels’ terrorist cells

An explanation as to why Molenbeek has become a platform of terrorist activity for the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), also commonly referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is that Belgium is a multicultural country of:

“Linguistic diversity and the political realms that come with it” (O’Sullivan).

The country is a dichotomy of self-governing, linguistically diverse, communities. There are the Flemish in the northern sector who speak Dutch, the Walloons in the south who speak Wallonia, within which is another community who speak German. The capital area of Brussels is separate, with people, the majority of which speak French.

Belgium’s variable communities have become autonomous while Brussels is somewhat on its own. Brussels, it seems, has been inactive in the monitoring and intelligence gathering needed in the terrorism-laden world in which we now live. It is easy for French nationals of Moroccan origin to go undercover in Molenbeek unnoticed. They can easily obtain an identity card and blend in (O’Sullivan). France has the Directory of Territorial Surveillance, which monitors prospective subversive activities. In Brussels, this type of surveillance agency does not exist, making Molenbeek an easy place to hide in plain sight. Non-subversive residents of Molenbeek feel unprotected, as one local proclaimed:

“We’re sitting between two fires: one from the whites and one from the Islamic extremists” (O’Sullivan).

The malevolent suspect, Salah Abdeslam, who participated in the Paris November 2015 attack, and is its lone survivor, came from Molenbeek (Rubin). He found safe haven in the community of his childhood for over 125 days. Belgian authorities hunted the terrorist down while raiding homes in the Molenbeek neighborhood. Abdeslam was finally apprehended emerging from a building authorities suspected him to be holed up in since the November attack, just ten minutes from his mother’s home. The time that it took for authorities to apprehend him is part of a general commentary on the counter-terrorist incapacity of Belgium (Rubin).

The Bombings

It is speculated that the Brussels airport and metro station bombings were in retaliation for the recent apprehension of Salah Abdeslam (“Brussels Explosions: Why”). The arrest, part of a second capture of another suspect, was a definite blow to IS and for other jihadist sympathizers. Abdeslam was a key facilitator in the Paris attacks. He secured places for the attackers to reside, purchased bomb components, and provided transportation across the European Union (“Brussels Explosions: Why”).

Brussels Airport

In addition to the 35 killed in the Brussels bombings, and the three bombers that died, many more people were injured (“Brussels Explosions: What”). Some severe burn victims and others with deep lacerations remain in critical condition in local hospitals. Images of the departure hall at Zaventem Airport show extreme physical damage and shocking devastation in the aftermath of the attacks. The number of explosives required to set off that much demolition is staggering.

It is frightening to know that the three men caught on surveillance video were simply walking along the thoroughfare, like any other passenger or visitor, pushing luggage trolleys blending in with their surroundings. Taking the analysis a step further, even if they had been stopped by airport security for suspicion, it is likely that the jihadist would have simply detonated the bomb immediately and ended the life of their inquisitors and themselves.

Maalbeek Metro Station

The Maalbeek Metro Station ( a popular destination for European Union citizens) was also hit by a terrorist explosion approximately just over an hour after the airport tragedy (“Brussels Explosions: What”). The bomb was placed in the middle section of a three car train. As the train began traveling toward the next station, which is not far away, the bomb detonated as the train was still running along the platform. The engineer stopped the train and passengers were evacuated.

The significance of the Maalbeek station is that it is located in the vicinity of a number of European Union organizations and institutions. Surrounding the site of the explosion is the European Commission headquarters, the Council of the European Union, Offices of the European Council, the United Nations Regional Information Centre, Offices of the Council of the European Union and Offices of the European Commission (“Brussels Explosions: What”).

The 2016 Brussels terrorist attack victims

In a heartbreaking revelation, Alexander Pinczowski and Sascha, his sister, were killed, among others, in the Brussels detonations (“Secret Marriage Revealed”). Alexander and Cameron, who lived in New York, had been married in a secret ceremony, and had not informed family yet, because they were trying to get Alexander’s career in full motion and immigration documents properly processed before celebrating with a traditional wedding in the family’s state of North Carolina.

Alexander and his sister were on their way back from the Netherlands, after meetings concerning a craft business he and Cameron intended to start upon his return. Cameron’s father was both joyous over the revelation that Alexander was his son-in-law and devastated once they discovered that the pair had not survived.

In an even more tragic twist of fate, Sascha had recently posted on Facebook “Ignorant spreading of anti-Muslim sentiment and propaganda does nothing but benefit ISIS.”

Her compassion for those victimized by Muslim prejudice and racial profiling caused by fear of terrorists sadly did not save her from the ill-will of jihadist extremists who have compassion for none (“Secret Marriage Revealed”).

The 2016 Brussels bombing suspects

Brothers Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui blew themselves up in the Brussels attack (“Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui”). Ibrahim self-detonated at the Brussels airport and Khalid, just over an hour later, at the Maalbeek Metro Station. Later, upon searching their home, authorities found a voluminous amount of bomb-making equipment and explosives. The brothers had a long history of crime using firearms and engaging in theft.

The el-Bakraoui brothers are not the first set of brothers who have practiced terrorism in tandem (“Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui”). Recently captured Salah, the logistics expert for the Paris attacks, and his brother Ibrahim Abdeslam, a suicide bomber, who self-detonated in the Paris attacks, became radicalized together. Both brother pairs are linked to the Brussels and Paris attacks, as described in the New York Times article demonstrating the intricate relationship among the Belgium, Molenbeek jihadists:

Fingerprints of at least three Paris attackers were found in apartments rented by two of the Brussels bombers. Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment rented by Khalid el-Bakraoui and another one rented by Najim Laachraoui, who used it as a bomb-making lab (Buchanan Park).

Najim Laachraoui, was the bomb-maker for both the Brussels and Paris attacks (“Najim Laachraoui”). A suicide bomber in Brussels, he blew himself up at the airport attack, along with his fellow accomplices.

The 2016 Brussels bombing aftermath

The European travel industry went into overdrive in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks (Kostov Chow). As the region is going into high tourism season, airport security in Frankfurt, Germany could be seen with security officers holding high-powered rifles at the airport terminal. In Brussels, air and rail links were shut down in an effort to recover from the bombing attacks.

A high-speed rail line, serving the Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam corridor was “deeply disrupted,” a pan-European train conductor offered (Kostov Chow).

Brussels is a travel hub for the Paris and London higher profile tourist destinations. Muslims living in the United States, Europe, and other Western civilizations were affected by the travel bans. Airlines diverted passengers to other destinations as Brussels airport closed until further notice. Passengers as far away as Germany, France, the Netherlands and other locations were either stranded or their travel was disrupted as a direct result. Travel agencies, hotels, airlines and other transportation venues experienced high cancellation rates and passenger confusion (Kostov Chow).

Harri Veivo, a Finnish man who was on the train behind the car that Khalid el-Bakraoui detonated, had been leaning on the doors of the train and upon detonation, was launched out of the car onto the tracks below (Kostov Chow). He suffered cuts near his eyes and a caked scab has formed near his lips, while he says that his hearing has been affected by the noise of the explosion. Lucky, though, that he did not get electrocuted by the third rail and he is alive to lay a flag at the makeshift memorial at Brussels’ Place de la Bourse square. Over three hundred persons were left.

Candidate reaction

Clinton responded to the Brussels atrocity by saying:

“Solidarity with our European allies . . . Today’s attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world,” (Taranto)

On the other hand, according to Think Progress, Trump called:

“For the Mexican border to be closed, Muslims to be banned from entering the country, and terrorism suspects to be waterboarded” (Rupar).


  1. Maalbeek Metro Station – the name of the Brussels metro station is spelled Maalbeek or Maelbeek depending on the source.
  2. ISIS and ISIL are not interchangeable terms. ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which emanated from al-Qaeda. ISIL stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which represents a more predominant terrorist group that covers the Middle East. Levant refers to Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

Works Cited

“Brussels attacks: Belgium releases terror murder suspect.” BBC News. BBC. 28 March 2016. Web. 29 March 2016.

“Brussels explosions: What we know about airport and metro attacks.” BBC News. BBC. 28 March 2016. Web. 29 March 2016.

“Brussels explosions: Why has Belgium’s capital been attacked?.” BBC News. BBC. 23 March 2016. Web. 29 March 2016.

Buchanan, Larry and Park, Haeyoun. “Uncovering the Links Between the Brussels and Paris Attackers.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 25 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

“Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui: From Bank Robbers to Brussels Bombers.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 24 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Kostov, Nick and Chow, Jason. “Europe’s Travel, Tourism Sectors Sent Reeling by Brussels Attacks.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones Co. 22 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

“Najim Laachraoui, 24, Bomb Maker for Paris and Brussels Attacks.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 26 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

O’Sullivan, Feargus. “How a Brussels Neighborhood Became a Breeding Ground for Terror.” The Atlantic City Lab. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 17 November 2015. Web. 29 March 2016.

Rubin, Alissa. “The Arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a Paris Suspect, Ends Manhunt, Not Questions.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 21 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Rupar, Aaron. “Donald Trump’s Frightening Response To The Brussels Attacks.” Think Progress. 22 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

“Secret marriage revealed during search for Brussels victims.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, Inc. 29 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Shoichet, Catherine E., Pleitgen, Frederik and Botelho, Greg. “Surveillance footage, cab driver offer clues in investigation in Brussels attack.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 23 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Steinhauser, Gabriele. “Brussels Struggles to Regain Its Balance.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones Co. 27 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

Taranto, James. “Brussels and Trump.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones Co. 22 March 2016. Web. 30 March 2016.

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